|Drafts: Keeping events safe (First • Second • Final) • Dealing with online harassment (First • Second • Final)
The following are a set of concepts for a future training module on dealing with conduct issues at events. They are being created based on feedback from community members who have experience working with these issues. This effort is led by the Support and Safety team at the Wikimedia Foundation.
This content will be developed over the coming months. If you have ideas for content, comments on the draft content, or ideas for headings that are not included here, please join us on the talk page!
The Support and Safety team is responsible for delivering and deploying these modules, and will be ultimately responsible for final editorial decisions on the content. However, we highly value input from those in the movement with experience dealing with online harassment, and will incorporate suggestions as appropriate.
Purpose of this module
The Wikimedia Movement has had in-person events as part of its core from early on, from the first 2003 Munich Meetup to the first Wikimania. Meeting your colleagues and others interested in working with you can be fun, rewarding, and important; doing work face-to-face can not only be more efficient, but also help everyone involved connect better to those working alongside them and to the goals they share.
This module is intended to help prepare event organizers to handle challenges around allegations of harassment and abusive behavior at events they host, organize, or attend. Real-life meetups and conferences can be very productive ways to bring contributors together; however, they can also provide opportunities for conflict, unwanted contact, privacy violations, or other forms of harassment.
Being prepared means having a course of action for incidents, designated people to receive reports, a working relationship with the venue where the event is being hosted, and a good knowledge of applicable policies. It is also important to have ways to avoid conflicts and defuse problem situations before they spiral into serious incidents. This training module will help prepare contributors like you to host successful events by introducing you to best practices for preventing and handling problematic situations at your events.
What do we mean by safety?
When we talk about safety for event participants, it is important to remember that this safety is both psychological and physical. While it is hopefully obvious that we want to ensure that users are physically safe at an event – whether that's from physical hazards or other attendees – it is equally important to ensure that the environment allows people to feel supported enough to participate and engage fully. When attendees feel harassed, insulted or abused, the effects can be serious. Not only could you lose them as event attendees, you may lose them entirely as contributors to the Wikimedia projects based on one of these incidents.
Who is involved in keeping an event safe?
It is important to remember that everybody is in position to contribute to the personal as well as collective safety of event attendees; this is not a responsibility that falls exclusively on a single person or team. Everybody can take steps to help ensure their own and others' actual or perceived safety during in-person events.
- The event organizing team (EOT) will often run a risk assessment and review potential safety-related scenarios during the planning stages of the event. They will then ensure that there are appropriate protocols in place that can be implemented should a situation warrant it. Members of the EOT should be easily identifiable by anyone attending an event, and there should be a well-publicized way to contact them in case a safety threat is identified.
- Venue staff and security have a general responsibility for the safety of people using their space. They will often be involved in the event's organisation and work closely with the EOT to ensure that all reasonable measures are taken to help assure participant's safety while on their premises.
- Event attendees can also take proactive steps that can help safeguard their own safety, as well as the safety of others.
E3: Situations you might encounter
Even though all efforts should be made to ensure that events are safe spaces for contributors to meet, congregate, and collaborate, there may be instances where you may observe situations that may make you or others feel uncomfortable, in a minor or major way. All of these violations can and should be addressed whether they occur against you or whether you observe them occurring against another person. This list is not meant to be exclusive – rare or unusual cases can always come up.
- Minor to moderate safe spaces violations usually consist of inappropriate comments, on-wiki arguments becoming a hostile or heated in-person debate, or inappropriate content that may be displayed in a presentation. These violations, especially, may not always be intentionally designed to upset others, but should nevertheless be addressed if they occur.
- Major safe spaces violations are situations where someone experiences a great deal of stress or feels threatened because of abusive conduct such as targeted harassment, explicit verbal personal attacks, implicit physical or sexual threats, or repeated unwanted actions after an explicit request to stop.
- Locally or globally banned users are not permitted to attend events. If you become aware of one being present at an event, keep in mind that the presence alone of a locally or globally banned user is considered to be a friendly space violation and should be reported to the EOT. Even if you don't feel immediately threatened by the individual, it's very possible that there are concerns outside of your knowledge and/or other attendees who could feel significant concern.
- Critical safety violations such as physical or sexual assault and abuse are extremely rare; however, when such incidents are observed or reported, they must be taken extremely seriously.
- Medical emergencies may also be encountered. Even though a medical emergency may not necessarily be the result of altercations with another person while at the event, it also needs to be treated as a matter of priority by the EOT.
Bear in mind that you, as the event organizer or as a volunteer, are also entitled to feel safe at an event. Incidents involving you should be treated just as seriously. Having a backup investigator to help in such a case is important. We'll talk more about this later in the training.
E4: Before the event
All parties involved in an event can take proactive actions in preparation for handling a harassment issue that may arise: from staff and volunteers working together to ensure all necessary and proactive preparations are made, to participants planning to/and eventually attending the event.
Event Organisation Team (EOT)
- Designate responsible parties who will handle an issue, should it arise. This is one of the key tasks in preparation for an event. Who accepts reports? Who adjudicates them? Who handles the in-person situations like escorting someone out? Establishing the chain of command, deciding on an escalation protocol and assigning those kind of responsibilities in advance can make a big difference to the way a situation is handled on the ground.
- For example, the EOT may set up an emergency Response Team (RT) in advance of the event, that will be responsible for handling safety incidents and concerns. If the event is large, ideally the RT members may be solely tasked with RT-related responsibilities. If the event is small, the RT members may have to wear other hats too. Some thought should be put towards conflicts of interest, for the unlikely event of a incident report that is about an RT member.
- If possible the RT should be assigned in groups of at least two team members: one person that may handle the incident and one person that will take over the main responsibilities of the main handler towards the event and the attendees.
- Advertise RT to the rest of the EOT. If the EOT is large enough to assign an RT, it is important that the rest of the EOT know who they are. Awareness of the reporting structure is essential in successful handling of issues.
- Make RT or EOT members easy to recognise. This can make handling of an issue faster and save affected individuals from added frustration. Different coloured t-shirts (than other attendees), special badges indicating team assignment, different prints on a unified colour t-shirt, different hats, etc. can be considered as options. If different colour coding is used, ensure that colors are friendly to visually impaired participants.
- Get adequate training. Being ready to react quickly and appropriately is crucial to the handling an issue while on the ground. The EOT should ensure that the designated RT members receive sufficient training in advance of the event so that they are better prepared and nerves do not take over. It may be a good idea to hold a refresher session on the day, with brief reminders of processes and key information. Though focused on online interactions, the Training Module for handling online harassment has good materials on working with harassment victims and handling reports that apply to in-person issues as well.
- Inform venue officials/security of admission restrictions. Working with them can greatly assist, especially in the event of having to escort an attendee out, reviewing escape routes, creating fallback plans, etc. If the event and therefore the venue is not large enough to have designated security, it may be worth for the EOT to perform a risk assessment to determine if additional security service should be considered and outsourced for the duration of the event.
- Prepare important information so it is readily available during the event. This can be a variety of information such as details on the venue's security, escape routes, police contacts, hotlines, etc. This can help the RT deal with an issue faster than it would be if this type of information is not readily available.
- Plan event/room use layout (for instance, a quiet room, etc). Make sure there a safe space with reasonable sound insulation/barriers from the rest of the event space, that can be used for the harassment victim to regain composure, calm down, and feel comfortable sharing important details of the incident they experienced.
- Review sign up list. Sometimes participants not permitted to attend an event may be detected as early as the registration phase. Keeping an eye on the registration list can lead to early action where needed, and avoid headaches at later stage.
- Request agreement to behavior standards and policies (ie Friendly Space policy) during registration process. This can act as a reminder of the standards participants are expected to adhere to.
- It may also be helpful that printed safety material that includes a copy of the Friendly Space policies applicable to the event is prepared. This can be handed out to the attendees as they receive their event information pack, event IDetc.
All the above can be considered for larger scale events. If you are holding a smaller event, some of the above steps may not be applicable or may not be possible. Make a reasonable effort to have practical processes and protocols in place should a harassment incident occur; you can only do what you have capacity for.
- Keep an open mind. Do some research on the culture you are about to enter and consider cultural differences. Something that is considered normal in your city/country may not be standard practice in the city/country where the event is held. Since you are the guest, a level of respect should be shown towards the local culture, even if you don’t personally agree with it. Preparation for dealing with harassment does not exclude preparation of how to avoid (unintentionally) becoming the harasser yourself.
- Read the behavioral guidelines applicable to the event you are attending. Those may sometimes vary from one event to another, and from one culture to another. It’s of great benefit to be aware what standards are expected of you before you enter the event.
- Be ready to report an issue. In some cultures, reporting harassment or abuse issues is not always received well, deterring victims from reporting in the future. There is zero tolerance of abuse on Wikimedia events, and you don’t have to put with abusive behavior towards you. There is no shame in reporting witnessing or being subjected to harassment and your report will be handled confidentially to the extent possible.
- Identify the EOT/TR members, so you can easily spot them if you need to report a safety issue or concern to them.
E5: During the event
Who may report?
Even though the Wikimedia community's general approach to coming across and rectifying abuse or vandalism is that of collective responsibility (if you see it, fix it if you can – don't wait for somebody else to do it), when it comes to harassment it is less of a black and white area. Even though harassment is defined as a certain type of activity, the extent to which the person on the receiving end is affected may vary from one individual to another. Some people are more resilient than others, therefore may not be affected by somebody harassing them and may not consider it a big deal. At the same time, some types of harassment are less evident to the naked eye, and only one who has sustained long-term harassment is able to identify it as part of a behavioral pattern that is not ok, while a bystander unaware of the context may brush it off. It is therefore very important that the person immediately affected by one's harassing behavior is the person reporting the issue.
An exception will be made for extreme situations where violence is inflicted and the person affected is physically unable to report the issue at the time it is happening or shortly after it has happened, due to inflicted injuries. In those cases, a third party / by-stander who witnessed the incident should be permitted to place a proxy report.
Ways to accept reports
A report should ideally be placed in writing, so that there is an immediate official record of it, that can be referred to, followed up on and reviewed at later date.
Dealing with the incident reporters in general. Determining whether a report is valid or not can be a tricky task as it may not always be evident right away that the harassment report is valid. This may become clear later on, as more details are made available, unless the report handler is aware of extenuating circumstances that allow them to make that judgement call instantaneously.
- Make yourself available to listen to their issue. Brushing off people who approach you with a report of possible harassment can be devastating to them. Making the time to listen right away helps establish initial rapport.
- Find a private or quiet space where the reporter can feel comfortable and safe enough to share details; this can help you gather all important information on the incident before you can determine validity or next steps. This applies even for public reports as it can help calm the parties involved.
- Be fair and objective. It is important that all incoming reports are treated fairly, with equal amount of objectivity, respect and politeness. It is also advised that the reporter is always treated with kindness and understanding.
Dealing with the incident reporters with valid reports
Reporting a legitimate harassment incident may require for the reporter to muster a lot of courage. It is important to remember that the person coming to you is likely experiencing an array of negative feelings (they may feel hurt, embarrassed, upset, threatened, unsafe, discriminated against, angry, etc). On top of the advice listed under the previous section:
- Take notes. You are not expected to remember every detail of an incident you have not necessarily witnessed. You’ll be surprised how helpful notes can be for review, especially if other EOT members are involved in the process of handling a situation. You don’t need to take notes the very moment the reporter has approached you (as you may need to take immediate actions once you are aware of the details), but making a record of the report while memory is still fresh is important. It also helps reassure the reporter that their report is taken seriously.
- Stay calm, think rationally. Being overtaken by emotions is okay for the reporter but not very helpful for the person expected to deal with the issue.
- Be ready to react. In some cases team’s timely intervention may be necessary. It may be that you have request further support or inform venue security of a situation that calls for their action.
- In a medical situation, ensure the victim(s) receives medical care. If the report comes from the person immediately affected, you may need to make sure the receive appropriate medical attention, if they’ve been physically hurt, and may need to accompany them to the nearest hospital.
- Help the victim consider actions. Depending on the severity of the incident, it may be appropriate to help or encourage the victim think about their immediate and long term options that may help them recover (for example, the immediate collection of medical evidence in the case of a rape, can make future reporting or other actions possible).
Dealing with the incident reporters with invalid/malicious reports
Not always is a report valid. Sometimes people enjoy attention or may be reporting non-issues. Other times, reports may be intended to intimidate another attendee. If you realise that this is the case with the person reporting:
- Be patient. You may have to spend some time explaining errors or misunderstandings to the reporter, but not dealing with them at all is not an option.
Dealing with the subjects of reports
Whether a report is valid or not, the subject of the report may still experience frustration and/or anger. It is therefore important that you:
- Stay calm. The subject of the report may be upset that they were reported, and they’d need you to not be emotional, so that you can help them calm down.
- Make sure you are not alone Handling the subject of a valid report may be a tense process. It’s good to have another person with you to help, if they have to, while you do what needs to be done. Having witnesses while you proceed can also protect you against future claims on inappropriate handling.
- Remove the subject. You may not always be required to take such drastic action as a removal, but be prepared to do so should the situation require it. :*Make sure you are always polite to the subject, even if what they did is unacceptable. Two wrongs don’t make one right and there is no justification for treating one badly.
- Ask for help if the subject refuses to comply with your request. This can be venue security, venue management or even local law enforcement.
- Report out. Let the rest of EOT or assigned person in charge that the issue has been handled as per applicable policies and protocols and the person causing issues has been successfully removed. Keeping people updated allows them to address further concerns that may be brought to them regarding the incident or the people involved in it and prevent panic from spreading to other event participants.
Be fair and understanding. Nobody enjoys being accused unfairly. The subject may be upset and you may be called to calm them down and reassure them that there was false alarm. It helps letting them know if there is recourse for the reporter and what this may be (as and when applicable).
E6: After the event
Report to the Foundation
If there was a harassment incident that took place during your event, especially one where things escalated, this should be reported (by the EOT) to the Foundation, for their records. It may be that they follow up with further actions or, simply consider it in the future, should they receive other reports about the same perpetrator.
Follow up with people who reported issues
It's good practice to follow up with the people who were immediately affected by a harassment incident, post-event. You are not expected to provide care or counseling, but there may be important developments between the people involved, post-event, that may be worth recording, reporting or considering for your future events.
Even though those situations may be rare, handling an incident of harassment can feel overwhelming for somebody who doesn't do this for living and they may be subject to secondary trauma. Whether through a professional/counseling format (hotlines?) or through an informal discussion session where EOT members have a sit-down and talk about their experience, sharing the emotional burden associated with handling high-stress situations can be beneficial.
Conduct a post-incident review
Were you able to handle the reported situation effectively? Are there things that could have been done better? Are there things that you did that worked? Are there important lessons learnt that you could even share with the community in some way or form? Is there a need to follow up with any of the people involved in the incident such as the reporter, the person reported, other volunteers, participants or attendees? Answers to these questions (through a quick, in-person meeting or producing a report) can help you assess your performance individually or as a team, identify possible gaps where you can improve, especially if you are often organising events in your area, and see to any items still pending action.
E7: Specific situations/things to think about ("Appendix")
This section is still under construction. Please leave ideas for content on the talk page!
Affiliates & long term groups
When a harassment incident involves an Affiliate member, apart from following standard process and protocol for handling it in-situ, the issue should also be communicated to the Foundation as well as the respective Affiliate. Although the Foundation may review the situation, responsibility for taking further actions (if necessary) may fall on the Affiliate, subject to the nature of the incident and specific details.
If both/all people involved in the incident are Affiliate members, the incident should be communicated to the Affiliations Committee (AffCom) as well as the Foundation, on top of following standard protocols for handling it on site. Similarly, the Foundation or AffCom may take further actions, if needed, subject to specifics.
Limits of your ability
You need to remember that you may not always be able to resolve a situation to everybody’s satisfaction. Sometimes the information you have may not lead to any actions other than filing it and or informing other parties, as per protocol, yet you may still have to let the reporter know about the outcome.